Mason Barnes. Photo: @chris_hamlet
Mason Barnes. Photo: @chris_hamlet

This Is What 20 Feet At 16 Seconds Looks Like In Puerto Rico

Catching up with North Carolina’s Mason Barnes after a pair of XXL sessions in Puerto Rico’s outer waters courtesy of winter storm Riley

Two years ago, when John Florence won The Eddie, the buoy readings were 20 feet at 16 seconds, and the biggest sets were closing out the channel at Waimea Bay. It was so heavy that, after the contest ended, only a few guys braved a freesurf.

North Carolina's Mason Barnes, a soft spoken, 24-year-old under-the-radar big wave guy, was one of them.

In the years since, we've seen photos of Barnes popping up at all the premiere big-wave spots around the world: Jaws, Puerto, Mavs, Cortes Bank, and... Tres Palmas?

Tres Palmas, in northwest Puerto Rico, is known to produce big waves during large winter swells. But thanks to winter storm Riley and its once-in-a-decade buoy readings (20 feet @ 16 seconds just off the coast of PR), Tres went XXL, and Barnes, along with a small crew of fellow east coasters, was there to experience an Eddie sized swell close to home.

We gave Barnes a ring to hear about his experience.

How you feeling after these last couple of days?

Good! But I'm so fried. So sunburnt. I just got in from the water 10 minutes ago. It was a pretty awesome day over here.

20 feet at 16 seconds happens once in a decade in the Caribbean. If that. What were your first thoughts when you saw this swell forecast?

I had no idea what to expect. I knew the numbers were there, but you still never know if it's actually gonna translate in the Caribbean. I got here super early Sunday morning, and I was so blown away by how big it already was. It was solid 10-foot Hawaiian.

It was really bumpy so I kind of just rested all day, and then paddled out that afternoon around 5pm, not really expecting much. Tres Palmas is super far out, so it was hard to tell the size from land. When we got out there I was blown away. There were 50-foot face waves coming in. It was sooooo much bigger than me, Will [Skudin], or anyone expected it to be.

That photo [see above] looks like onshore Waimea Bay.

Exactly. It honestly felt like I was surfing any other big wave in the world. It actually reminded me a lot of Cortes Bank, because there were waves breaking all over the place and there were really giant waves breaking up at the top of the reef and just running. But yeah, the power was there, there was so much water moving -- it was just as heavy as anywhere I've ever surfed.

Did you have water safety or were you out there on your own?

Yeah, we had water safety. Will is injured right now, so he ran water safety for all of us. I really appreciate him doing that.

Who else were you out there with?

It was me, Cliff [Skudin], and Woody [Skudin]. Cliff whipped into a couple, and Woody and I were paddling. We each got a couple of waves, but it was so tricky. There were 10-foot side chops coming up the face, just because it was so windy. We all caught cool waves, but it was mainly just special to be a part of a session like that in Puerto Rico. That was my first time getting to surf waves like that in the Caribbean.


What size board were you riding?

I rode a 9'6, and it actually felt so small, that I ended up borrowing Will's 10'6, and I rode that all day today.

How did today compare to that first session?

In the morning it actually looked like it had dropped, so we took our time getting out there. But the swell picked up again by the afternoon -- 30 foot faces, maybe a little bigger on the sets, and the winds clocked around a bit, so it was way cleaner, and we just had an awesome session. We got wave after wave. It wasn't as big as last night, but it was still really fun.

You four were probably the only guys chasing true, XXL waves in the Caribbean during this swell.

Yeah, and I think that's mainly due to the conditions, being as crazy as they were. We had a water safety meeting right before this swell, and there were like 20 guys in it, but I'm not sure where everyone else was surfing...

It looks like there were some other rarely surfed slabs breaking on other parts of the island. Not XXL, but pretty crazy.

Yeah, I'm sure. I've never seen this much swell down here. It exceed my expectations by a long shot. My 9'6 felt like a shortboard [laughs]. It's the real deal here. Just like anywhere else in the world. And it's so close to home. I just wish it happened more often, because Tres would be a prime big wave spot if it did. There's no telling how long it'll be until a swell like this happens again, but I've got the bug. I'll be back. I gotta convince everyone else how sick this wave is.

I don't think they'll need convincing after they see a couple photos.

[laughs]. Yeah. I don't think anyone was expecting this.

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